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Houseboaters apprehensive about city harbour plan
Yellowknifers raised concerns about what's to come of Yk waterfront

Nicole Veerman
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, December 8, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - More than a dozen houseboaters gathered at a public meeting Dec. 1 to express their concerns about how a harbour plan and authority could change their independent lifestyle.

NNSL photo/graphic

Development on Yellowknife Bay, including the area around Jolliffe Island where many houseboaters live, was a topic of discussion at the Tree of Peace on Dec. 1 at a public harbour planning meeting. About 35 residents attended the meeting to express their concerns and share their ideas. - NNSL file photo

They were among approximately 35 Yellowknifers at the Tree of Peace who met with southern consultants hired by the city to gather information and write a draft strategy for the design and regulation of waters surrounding Yellowknife.

A slide during the consultants' presentation outlining "issues" stemming from houseboats, including the fact that they're not taxed, had houseboat residents up-in-arms.

Matthew Grogono, the owner of three houseboats and a property on McDonald Drive, said the meeting was frustrating.

"It's an unfortunate topic because it creates such a polarity between the conservatives on shore and the liberal, left-thinking people on the houseboats," he said. "I'm just hearing old rhetoric being stirred up unnecessarily and the discussion about taxes, for me, is a red herring."

During the meeting, attendees were split into three groups - parks and trails, boats and planes and Old Town - and people joined the group in which they were most interested in having a discussion. Houseboaters, in the boats and planes group, agreed they would be willing to pay service fees, but not property taxes.

The lack of regulatory control over houseboats has been a point of contention for the city for many years. In 1995, the city attempted to levy property taxes on a number of houseboats, including Grogono's, in a lengthy legal battle that was eventually won by the houseboaters.

Fiona Duckett, a coastal engineer with Baird and Associates, fielded the houseboaters questions and reminded them the purpose of the meeting was to give residents a forum to address their concerns and ideas.

The harbour plan is meant to establish a framework and vision for Yellowknife waters, including waterfront lands from the Yellowknife River in the north to Negus Point in the south. The study area also includes the communities of Ndilo and Dettah.

"We're trying to create a harbour plan that has, for lack of a better word, rules that work for everybody, not rules for the sake of rules," said Duckett.

"And it's not just about float homes."

Ray Weber, a pilot who lives on Latham Island, agreed.

His concern was about Old Town, although he made his rounds to all three of the discussion groups.

"Yellowknife has a unique culture and if you spoil or change that too severely, then the people that live here and like it here won't like it here anymore," he said.

"We're all afraid they're going to change the character of the whole Old Town. We gotta be really careful with things that the city changes because they tend to offend the residents."

During the presentation, consultants recognized the heritage and culture Old Town brings to the city and suggested one idea could be turning it into a cultural complex, like Granville Island in Vancouver, B.C.

Grogono said that's an idea he can get behind and suggested the old Hudson's Bay Company and the Johnson's Building Supplies buildings be used as arts and cultural resource centres.

Jeff Humble, the city's manager of planning and development, said the concerns and ideas shared at the meeting are what the city and the consultants need in order to create a harbour plan that is best for everyone.

"Hopefully we'll end up with something that will advance a vision for the Yellowknife harbour," he said.

In September 2009 the city obtained a written endorsement from the Yellowknives Dene to establish the Yellowknife Harbour Planning Committee, which formed at the end of January to help in the development of a vision and implementation strategy for a regulated Yellowknife Bay.

The consulting team spent two days working with the committee, which is made up of 17 community members, including representatives from city council, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada, several interest groups and Yellowknife residents.

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